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Wildlife safety: Your dog(s) can harm wildlife and natural habitats

It is a wonderful image a dog running freely in the woods with his human strolling the path, both free to enjoy the nature around them.

Actually, it is a dangerous image because dogs can do much harm to wildlife if allowed to run free. Not only is it a danger to the wild animals, but it is a danger to the dog and its owner. In fact, it is illegal to allow your dog to harass wildlife. You and your dog need to practice wildlife safety.

Illegal to let your dog run loose in some locations

According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, you can be cited and fined for letting your dog run loose. They highlight several recent incidents where dogs chased and killed deer. Dog owners are responsible for controlling their pets and are liable for any damage caused.

The consequences of even minor skirmishes between your dog and wildlife can be severe. A deer, for instance, can injure itself badly fleeing the conflict. It sees your dog as a predator and even the stress associated with the fear and flight can weaken their immune systems causing illness and potentially death. Pregnant does can lose their fawns. 

Oblivious owners cause problems

When I lived in Canada, I lived on a lake where swans, ducks, loons and other migratory birds nested. The path around the lake was marked with signs that dogs must be on leashes and warning people about the nesting birds. Yet, so many people walked with their dogs off-leash, allowing them to forage in the bush and potentially killing birds and destroying their nests. It was infuriating seeing people on their cell phones walking and oblivious to their dog shredding the swan’s nest. There are often reasons for rules and laws, but many people believe they don’t have to follow them.

I am a huge bear lover. We were very “bear aware” in British Columbia because encounters were not uncommon. Many people carried bear spray, made loud noises when hiking and, most importantly, made sure their dog was on its leash. Even a barking dog on a leash is a threat to a mama bear protecting her cubs and could provoke a charge. You and your dog could be killed. Coyotes, cougars, bears, moose, and even snakes and hawks could all kill your dog. 

Let common sense rule the day

Common sense should rule the day. Your dog should always be on its leash when walking in public places and when hiking in woods, on the beach and other natural habitats. It’s okay to let Pooch run free in a fenced yard or dog park, which is set up just for that activity. I am not going to address hunting dogs here because that is a special situation with a highly trained canine. I’m addressing the majority of companion dogs and their owners.

I like to think of it as common courtesy too. I made the mistake of letting my goofy Golden Retriever, Parker, run free to the car one day. A woman was walking by my house and Parker ran up to her. She started screaming and shaking; she was deathly afraid of dogs. I felt horrible and always had him on a leash even when getting in the car. You just never know what is around the corner. 

A good harness and leash are necessary

One thing I would like to mention: A good harness and leash allows you to control your dog in dangerous situations. (I did a piece on harnesses here not too long ago.) I see a lot of people walking their dog with those retractable cords. They are not leashes and they do not allow you to adequately control your dog. A pup 10 feet away on the end of a cord might as well be off-leash, in my opinion. I have actually witnessed a small dog on the end of one of those get attacked and injured by another dog – the owner was helpless. 

Here are some ideas to protect dogs and wildlife

  • Make sure you can control your dog if/when the need arises.
  • Always have your dog on a leash (a strong leash and harness) in public places.
  • Be aware at all times of your surroundings when with your dog. Other dogs, people and wildlife can all be a risk for an unfortunate encounter.
  • If you are hiking in an area that has a sensitive ecosystem and abundant wildlife, think about leaving your dog at home. Be selective about your adventures. 
  • And, maybe most importantly, when you encounter wildlife, keep your distance from them. Observe from afar. If the animal is reacting to you and your dog, you are too close. 

Enjoy the time you have together with your dog while being respectful of the wild animals we are so lucky to have grace our lives.

##RVT1026

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Deborah Mason
25 days ago

What a lot of people don’t realize is that some animals (elk for example) will sometimes get tired of running from a dog. When that happens they will turn and come after the dog. If you are “attached” to the dog you are just as much a target as your dog. And moose will automatically come after your dog, especially if it’s a mama with a calf.

Scott R. Ellis
25 days ago

“Let common sense rule the day,” indeed. And common sense says that your dog must be under control. If that requires a leash, then use one.

Diane
25 days ago
Reply to  Scott R. Ellis

💯 agree

G Sargent
25 days ago

I think another point is for owners to walk their dogs, on leash, regularly. I take my two dogs to various hiking areas, they are 55 and 116 lbs. I move off the path when meeting others, especially with dogs, as mine are so large and take up space. Mine go often enough and have manners not to bark or sniff at other people, mostly ignoring other dogs as well. I’m over 60, but my dogs sat nicely off the path when a young couple with their 40lb dog passed, it took both of them to restrain their dog. told me it was his first time on the trail. I’m glad they’re taking him, but clearly he hasn’t had the training to be there yet. Daily walks are needed, with training, before heading out to wild areas. We can all have fun out there, socially acceptable dogs can sniff tails and enjoy doggie socialization when they know what behavior is ok. I was particularly proud of my 116lb girl, she has the “instinct” to sit and turn away from excited dogs, like she’s trying to tell them to calm down.